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Genesis Chapter Twenty-Three


I. Content of the Chapter


Sarah Died and Was Buried in the Cave of Machpelah

A.  Abraham mourned for Sarah (v.1-2);

B.  Abraham bought a burial place for Sarah:

1. He asked the sons of Heth for a burial place (v.3-4);

2. The sons of Heth planed to hinder Abraham from buying the land for burial (v.5-6);

3. Abraham insisted to buy the land for burial (v.7-9);

4. Abraham and the owner of the land reached an agreement (v.10-15);

5. Abraham paid for the land (v.16);

6. The land was delivered to Abraham (v.17-18);

C.  Sarah was buried (v.19-20);


II. Verse by Verse Commentary


Gen. 23:1Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.

YLT: “And the life of Sarah is a hundred and twenty and seven years -- years of the life of Sarah;”

Literal Meaning: in the Bible, Sarah was the only woman, whose age was recorded, which showed that her life was meaningful and the whole days of her life were valuable and were remembered by God.

Spiritual Meaning: from the circumcision of Abraham to the death of Sarah, and from the death of Sarah to the death of Abraham, both periods were exactly “thirty-eight” years (see Gen. 17:17, 24; 25:7). It seems that the Bible calls to our mind that the Israelites went round the wilderness. God did not allow them to enter into the land of Canaan until all the generation of the men of war were wasted out from among the host (Deut. 2:14). Besides, it tells us that God keeps us on the earth after we are saved to let our natural life be dealt with so that we will partake of the heavenly reward.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) We may have done thousands of things in our life. However, how many of them are valuable and are remembered before God on earth?

  2) Let us learn all spiritual things as long as we live today, lest we should be chastened by the Lord when He comes again (Matt. 24:50-51; 25:11-12, 30).


Gen. 23:2So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

YLT: “and Sarah dieth in Kirjath-Arba, which Hebron, in the land of Caanan, and Abraham goeth in to mourn for Sarah, and to bewail her.”

Meaning of Words: Kirjath Arba”: city of four directions, the city of giant man; “Hebron”: association, friendship;

Literal Meaning: Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan”, Hebron was called Kirjath Arba (Jos. 14:15), which was located in the southwest of Jerusalem (Gen. 22:19). Later, Kirjath Arba and Mamre were jointed as one city. Abraham dwelt in Beersheba first, and he might then move northward to Hebron thirty miles away.

  And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her”, “mourn” refers to the inner emotion. “Weep” is the outer expression, which shows that Abraham wailed much and made great lamentation over Sarah.

Spiritual Meaning: Hebron” means “fellowship with God”. That Sarah died in Hebron revealed that He died in the fellowship with God. Today, we believers are on the way to the New Jerusalem. If the Lord delays, the majority of believers will die on the way and be taken in the fellowship with God, so they are “the dead in Christ” (1Thess. 4:14, 16; Rev. 14:13).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) It is a normal expression that believers mourn the death of their family members.

  2) Spiritual giants also have tears, and even the Lord offered up supplications with strong crying and tears when he was on the earth (Heb. 5:7). Spiritual giants do have affections, but they are not bothered by affections.

  3) The children of God are unable to avoid mournful things when they live in the world. However, they will not be too sad as those worldly people who have hope (1Thess. 4:13-14).

  4) Sarah died in the promised land and she did not receive the promise of God. Therefore, she died in faith (Heb. 11:13). Let us seek and wait for a better and heavenly country by faith (Heb. 11:10-16).


Gen. 23:3Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying,

YLT: “And Abraham riseth up from the presence of his dead, and speaketh unto the sons of Heth, saying,”

The Background: stood up from before his dead”, according to the custom of the Middle Easterners, he who cried and mourned fell before the dead and then he would prepare for the funeral.

  The sons of Heth”, they dwelt in the land of Canaan earlier than Abraham, so Abraham was regarded as a foreigner among them (see v.4). They had a large population and occupied a large land (Jos.1:4).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Faith makes us not remain in dead mourning but turn to the coming resurrection.

  2) Though we may be confronted with great troubles, we have to still rise up from troubles. Difficulties or even death are unable to trouble us (2Cor. 4:8-9).

  3) No matter how sorrowful things we have met, let us not give ourselves to despair, but stand up strongly and walk the rest of the way.


Gen. 23:4“I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”

YLT: “`A sojourner and a settler I with you; give to me a possession of a burying-place with you, and I bury my dead from before me.'”

The Background: “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you”, such kind of foreigner at that time had the right to take part in social activities, though it was limited. They could not own the landed property except for special cases.

Literal Meaning: “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you”, the word of Abraham was spoken according to the visual situation rather than the promise of God.

  Give me property for a burial place among you”, it meant that Abraham would buy a land from them. Abraham cherished the land there for he hoped for the possession of the land on the day of resurrection.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and we are “sojourners” and “foreigners” on the earth now (Heb. 11:13; 1Pet. 2:11). We are on the earth, but not of the earth (John 15:19; 1John 4:5-6).

  2) The world is not our home, so let us set our eyes upon the heavenly country (Heb. 11:16).

  3) No matter how rich or wealthy we are in the world, we will finally obtain a burial place only. Therefore, let us not pay too much attention to physical things.

  4) No matter how beloved or precious or good the dead is, he should be buried. All dead things are filthy in the sight of God. And He does not please that men always stay in the dead conditions (Num. 19:11-19).

  5) The old man of us ---- the old creature, the nature, the flesh, the temperament, the jealousy and the covetousness ---- should also be buried (Rom. 6:2-4).

  6) Believers should not disregard the funeral arrangement and make the dead one buried solemnly, not flippantly.


Gen. 23:5And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him,

YLT: “And the sons of Heth answer Abraham, saying to him,”


Gen. 23:6“Hear us, my lord: You are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place, that you may bury your dead.”

YLT: “`Hear us, my lord; a prince of God thou in our midst; in the choice of our burying-places bury thy dead: none of us his burying-place doth withhold from thee, from burying thy dead.'”

Meaning of Words: a mighty prince”: prince of God;

The Background: in the ancient times, if the burial place was not one’s own property, it meant that there was not resting place for his body. Therefore, the answer of the sons of Heth was merely an oral favor.

Literal Meaning: You are a mighty prince among us”, this was merely a complimentary word, for Abraham owned many slaves and cattle and sheep (Gen. 13:2; 20:14). Such word of the sons of Heth was for the purpose of hindering Abraham from buying an everlasting land.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) A man who has mature life is able to let others see God through him.

  2) Whenever we have manifested God, people will call us “mighty prince”. Believers are respected by others by the spiritual life, not wealth or status.

  3) Abraham was unwilling to bury Sarah in the burial places of the sons of Heth, which showed us that those who were of God were separated from the world (2Cor. 6:17-18).


Gen. 23:7Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.

YLT: “And Abraham riseth and boweth himself to the people of the land, to the sons of Heth,”

Literal Meaning: “bowed”, it was a kind of social courtesy at that time, not worship.

Enlightenment in the Word: the more one is spiritual, the more will he be humble to others. Rude believers may humiliate the testimony of the Lord.


Gen. 23:8And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and meet with Ephron the son of Zohar for me,

YLT: “and he speaketh with them, saying, `If it is your desire to bury my dead from before me, hear me, and meet for me with Ephron, son of Zoar;”

Meaning of Words: Zohar”: white; “Ephron”: strong;


Gen. 23:9that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price, as property for a burial place among you.”

YLT: “and he giveth to me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which in the extremity of his field; for full money doth he give it to me, in your midst, for a possession of a burying-place.'”

Meaning of Words: Machpelah: sheepfold, double;

Literal Meaning: according to the promise of God, all the land of Canaan are of Abraham (Gen. 13:14-15; 15:18). However, before the time of God, he purposed to not obtain the land by unrighteousness.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Though we believers have obtained the eternal inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:11), we shall still not rob the present possession. We shall not disregard righteousness because of grace.

  2) Believers shall not covet for things of others, but obtain everything in integrity and uprightness.

3) We will not obtain the testimony in our conversation until we have paid sufficient price. The testimony without any price or with insufficient price will not glorify God.

4) “Machpelah” means “double” ---- if we seek Christ earnestly when we live on the earth, we will gain when we die (Phil. 1:21) ---- he who obtains the birthright obtains double blessings.


Gen. 23:10Now Ephron dwelt among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth, all who entered at the gate of his city, saying,

YLT: “And Ephron is sitting in the midst of the sons of Heth, and Ephron the Hittite answereth Abraham in the ears of the sons of Heth, of all those entering the gate of his city, saying,”

The Background: in the ancient times, the gate of city in the Middle East was the place where the people were gathered and judged and did business. And if the Middle Easterners bought a land in the ancient times, both sides had to invite the elders to be witnesses and dealt in the trading process before all the people at the gate of city.


Gen. 23:11“No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead!”

YLT: “`Nay, my lord, hear me: the field I have given to thee, and the cave that in it, to thee I have given it; before the eyes of the sons of my people I have given it to thee -- bury thy dead.'”

The Background: according to the rules of the sons of Heth at that time, if an land owner sold only a part of the land, he had still to charge for the taxes of the whole land.

Literal Meaning: Abraham needed only the cave of Machpelah at the end of the field (see v.9), and the land owner Ephron seemed to be generous to give the cave to him. However, in fact he schemed to ask Abraham to buy the whole land at high prices. It was an indirect and pressing way of the ancient Middle Easterners to force others to buy at high prices.


Gen. 23:12Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land;

YLT: “And Abraham boweth himself before the people of the land,”


Gen. 23:13and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If you will give it, please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.”

YLT: “and speaketh unto Ephron in the ears of the people of the land, saying, `Only -- if thou wouldst hear me -- I have given the money of the field -- accept from me, and I bury my dead there.'”

Enlightenment in the Word: let believers walk properly toward those who are outside (1Thess. 4:12) and own no one anything (Rom. 13:8).


Gen. 23:14And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him,

YLT: “And Ephron answereth Abraham, saying to him,”


Gen. 23:15“My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.”

YLT: “`My lord, hear me: the land -- four hundred shekels of silver; between me and thee, what it? -- thy dead bury.'”

Literal Meaning: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver”, probably the price was too high, for David only spent fifty shekels on the threshing-floor and oxen (2Sam. 24:24), and Jeremiah spent seventeen shekels on a piece of land (Jer. 32:9). Ephron was seemingly generous, but actually he just took advantage of Abraham to satisfy his greed.

Enlightenment in the Word: let we believers walk in wisdom toward those who are outside (Col. 4:5) so that we are able to discern their crafty words. .


Gen. 23:16And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants.

YLT: “And Abraham hearkeneth unto Ephron, and Abraham weigheth to Ephron the silver which he hath spoken of in the ears of the sons of Heth, four hundred silver shekels, passing with the merchant.”

Literal Meaning: Abraham did not make a bargain or was imposed by the environment. As long as he could buy a piece of land, in spite of the high price, he did not spare the money, for he knew that land was his possession and his heir would inherit that land. However, before the day of inheriting the possession, he was unwilling to take advantage of others.

Spiritual Meaning: “silver” represents trial and price.

  “Four hundred” is the product of forty times ten, which represents perfect trial.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) When the Lord comes again, believers will be like Him (1John 3:2-3). However, when we live in the world, let us be holy and upright and be blemish before the world.

  2) The moral level shall be above that of the world ---- it is better to be defrauded than to defraud others.

  3) The sons of Heth considered only the high price, but Abraham perceived the true value of the cave of Machpelah. Believers do not walk by sight, but by faith, and gaze at the coming hope.

  4) If believers want to obtain the “cave of Machpelah” as a burial place (which means receiving double blessings), we have to pay a sufficient price and undergo perfect trials of God.

  5) Believers sojourn in the world and experience the suffering and trial and stripping of the cross, and ultimately obtain the proof of faith ---- the full assurance of resurrection.


Gen. 23:17So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded

YLT: “And established are the field of Ephron, which in Machpelah, which before Mamre, the field and the cave which in it, and all the trees which in the field, which in all its border round about,”

Literal Meaning: “before”: it is the east part (Gen. 13:9, 11);

    This verse means that the borderline of the land is distinctly set and even the tree are numbered.

Spiritual Meaning: “field”, the place where life grows;

  “Trees” reveal vigor and vitality, which represents the strong life.

  This verse show though believers shall be asleep, they are full of hope of resurrection (1Thess. 4:16).  

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matt. 22:32).

  2) Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward is being renewed day by day (2Cor. 4:16).

  3) Though believers are dead in the flesh, their spirits rest in the Lord and wait to be caught by the risen Lord and be with the Lord forever (1Thess. 4:17).


Gen. 23:18to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

YLT: “to Abraham by purchase, before the eyes of the sons of Heth, among all entering the gate of his city.”

Literal Meaning: here it indicated that the trade was done before the elders of the sons of Heth according to lawful procedure. Here it mentions the witness to show that this contract was valid.


Gen. 23:19And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.

YLT: “And after this hath Abraham buried Sarah his wife at the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre (which Hebron), in the land of Canaan;”

Literal Meaning: Hebron”, it became the burial place of the fathers of the Hebrews. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Bebekah, Jacob and Leah were all buried here (Gen. 25:9; 49:31; 50:31).


Gen. 23:20So the field and the cave that is in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place.

YLT: “and established are the field, and the cave which in it, to Abraham for a possession of a burying-place, from the sons of Heth.”

Literal Meaning: God promised Abraham the land of Canaan as a possession. However, henceforth the only eternal possession he had received was even a piece of “burial place”.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The possession God has promised us is not the earthly possession, but a better and heavenly country (Heb. 11:8-16).

  2) We can merely obtain a piece of burial land in the business and building on the earth. Therefore, do not set the hope on earthly things.


III. Outlines of the Spiritual Lessons


The Death of Sarah

A.  The whole days of her life were remembered by God (v.1);

B.  She died by faith (v.2);

1. She did not obtain the promise when she died.

2. She died in the fellowship of God.

C.  Abraham mourned for Sarah (v.2);


The Burial of Sarah

A.  The dead should be buried (v.4);

B.  The separation between those are of God and the world ---- do not borrow a burial place from the sons of Heth (v.v.5-9);

C.  Be full of the hope of resurrection (v.17-20);


How to Walk toward Those Who Are Outside

A.  Show that we are foreigners (v.4);

B.  Be humble and polite toward others (v.7);

C.  Not take advantage of others (v.8-9);

D.  Be wise ---- be able to discern the words (v.10-16);

E.  Deal with everything clearly (v.17-18);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

Translated by Mary Zhou